Migration: EU offers prayers and money... but no solidarity – Engerer

Informal pushback agreements such as those often between Malta and Libya, have been taken to serious task by MEPs debating in this month’s European Parliament plenary session

Almost 700 people have died in the Mediterranean so far this year – three times more than in the same period last year – irrespective of a global lack of movement due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic
Almost 700 people have died in the Mediterranean so far this year – three times more than in the same period last year – irrespective of a global lack of movement due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic

Labour MEP Cyrus Engerer had harsh words for this week’s European Parliament plenary debate with the European Commission and Council on the recent deaths in the Mediterranean and search and rescues at sea.

“How many times are we going to count the bodies in the Mediterranean?” Engerer asked.  “The European reaction to all of this has been to offer our prayers, and to throw money at the challenge. All while countries on the frontlines of the European Union are left alone, even though the European borders are common borders to us all.”

Engerer demanded a coordinated migration system “which focuses on both search and rescue by the authorities, and the distribution of the burden of asylum applicants across the whole of the European Union”.

Observing how almost 700 people have died in the Mediterranean so far this year – three times more than in the same period last year – irrespective of a global lack of movement due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.

Although the European Border and Coast Guard Agency has registered an overall six-year low in irregular border crossings, the 2020 Central Mediterranean Route witnessed a considerable spike over 2019 figures. In fact, there were more than 34,100 such arrivals in 2020 compared to nearly 11,500 in 2019, with the majority of people arriving in Lampedusa.

Driving the message home, Engerer challenged his fellow MEPs to, “Imagine those 700 human beings, the same amount as we have Members of the European Parliament in this chamber, sitting on these very chairs in front of us, telling us what made them get on to those boats knowing how unsafe the voyage is.”

In his intervention, Engerer underscored how the journey across the Mediterranean remains one of the most dangerous in the world, and stressed that security is a fundamental human right.

In the end, on Wednesday the European Parliament adopted a report by 358 votes in favour, 309 against, with 26 abstentions providing recommendations on human rights protection in the framework of the EU’s external asylum and migration policy.

Informal arrangements such as Malta’s with Libya a ‘worrying trend’

The text make particular note of the fact that, since 2016, the EU and “some member states” have made many informal bilateral agreements and arrangements with third countries on strengthening their border control and management capacities, fighting human trafficking and on the return and readmission of irregular migrants.

Such informal agreements presumably include that which Malta had struck several such ad hoc agreements with Libya with respect to the pushback of migrants departing from Libyan shores.

The EP report highlights several “worrying” trends and the practical human rights implications stemming from such informal arrangements, which are concluded without due democratic scrutiny and parliamentary oversight and are not subject to judicial scrutiny.

As such, MEPs urged the European Commission to negotiate and sign formal readmission agreements with third countries. They noted the absence of adequate operational reporting, monitoring, evaluation and accountability mechanisms to track individual cases and respond to potential violations, as well as the lack of effective judicial remedies for persons whose rights have been allegedly violated.

The rights of asylum seekers are inherently dependent on having human rights violations assessed by a court, MEPs underscored.

The EP’s rapporteur Tineke Strik (The Greens/EFA, Netherlands) elaborated after the vote on how, “Cooperation with third countries does not absolve the EU of meeting its human rights obligations towards migrants and refugees. These obligations must be fulfilled through better monitoring, more transparency on the use of EU funds and enhanced democratic oversight from the European Parliament. In addition, we must ensure access to justice for migrants and refugees whose rights may be affected by the EU’s cooperation with third countries. This is the only way to ensure that our external migration policy complies with international law.”

Ewropej Funded by the European Union

This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

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